Tenchu: Wrath Of Heaven
Could this be a breakthrough stealth title? Hardcore gamers delight! Your ninja simulation is here.
The long awaited sequel to the much-praised Tenchu series is finally here. This Incarnation of the series bears the name Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven, and in this game you will feel like the very wrath of heaven when you do things such as descend upon enemies silently from above off of rooftops to exact punishment for their sins. Actually, the story is a little bit more complicated than that, as you will see, but it is important to understand what the experience of this game feels like. It is important because it is an experience like no other. Your first tendency would be to describe this game as an action adventure title, and it is, because there is enough action and adventure in it for 3 games, but it is also important to add the description of simulation to it. A simulation of what you might ask? A Ninja simulation! As you play the game, you will feel and act like a real ninja and it is the closest thing to being one in real life without actually, well, being one in real life. The movement from shadow to shadow, corner to corner, rooftop to rooftop, etc, just beyond enemy sight, is necessary because of the toughness of the enemies, not only from brute strength, but from a sophisticated AI which forces you to act in this manner, considering your every move and learning to take full advantage of your stealth, just like a real ninja would do.
There are 2 main characters with their own story lines, Rikimaru and Ayame. Although they have some of the same missions, they also have separate ones and their stories follow different paths. You will have to play through the game as both of them to experience the story mode fully.
Moving in your environment
The first thing you will notice is that the environments in Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven are entirely free roaming in every aspect. That is to say, you move in a real time rendered environment, like in Silent Hill 2 or Soul Reaver 1 and 2. There are no fixed camera angles à la Resident Evil or semi-fixed camera angles like in Devil May Cry or even somewhat fixed camera angles like in Metal Gear Solid 2. My first thought was, "Uh oh. Whenever they try to do this with an action based game (much less a stealth based action game) anywhere from some to a lot of gameplay is lost!". This is why you all know, many people complain about the move from classic 2d gameplay to all out 3d gameplay when companies try to make platformers and action games make that move to that "next generation" style that we keep hearing about. So, as I was saying, my first thought was that controlling my character through these stealth actions, without screwing up and getting spotted all the time, and hand-to-hand combat with enemies would all be very clumsy. Well, to calm your fears, I was wrong! Apparently, I had been playing too much of The Getaway, which although is still a great game for overall fun factor, has some of the clumsiest controls I've ever seen in a free-roaming game with non-fixed camera angles. Fortunately, this is not the case with Tenchu:WoH. The controls are extremely tight and do not hinder your ability to perform any of the actions vital to being a successful ninja.
As I said before, one of the most important experiences of the game is the actual feeling of being a ninja and acting in stealth as they do-attack quickly and silently and leave little or no trace of your passage. It seems obvious as I say it, but think about it. There have been many other "ninja" games in the past, but none of them involve stealth or anything that defines what a ninja truly is, except that they seem to know some martial arts. Don't even remind me of that Mortal Kombat Mythologies game with Sub Zero. Although fun to an extent, I couldn't help but lose a lot of respect for Sub Zero. In these games, such as Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, the ninja label seems nothing more than a marketing ploy compared to Tenchu. Anyone can look cool dressed that way, but are they for real? Tenchu, like I said, I consider a simulation.
Combat and Kills
Flat out combat after revealing yourself to your enemy is done extremely well, too. In fact, I would not be wholly satisfied with this title if it wasn't, even though the stealth is what makes the game unbelievably awesome. There is a main attack button and a block button, which also acts as a variant attack button when close to the enemy (grabs, quick chops, etc.). Combos are quite fun, too, and not very hard. During the course of the game, you will unlock more and more ninja abilities as you successfully fill your stealth kills gauge. More on stealth kills later. With these combos and extremely well done dodging, blocking, and other techniques, combat is very enjoyable. And I haven't even mentioned the scores of weapons you will unlock and find in the game to use on your missions.
By the way, the R2 button, which locks on to enemies, is your friend! So stimulate that trigger finger. Personally, I like to roll dodge as well as jump from side to side, because I think it confuses the enemy a little more and plus it just plain looks cool. Use items such as smoke bombs to confuse enemies when the going gets rough so you can rethink your plan of attack and/or disappear for a bit. The enemies are tough, so do not just run at them hitting the attack button repeatedly or you will get killed more often than not.
Break-thru stealth title
I think what is most important, that separates this stealth game from others is that both flat out combat and stealth are done just as well and on top of that they can be linked into one big action for maximum entertainment. They are directly connected. What I mean by this is that you can sneak into the best position you want in the shadows and/or just out of site and jump in, roll, etc., whatever, to attack the enemy or group of enemies in any way you want and then proceed to disappear back into the shadows, rooftop, etc. for a split second to escape injury, then maybe jump a couple rooftops or run around another building to attack them again from behind. Rinse, repeat. This gives you the feeling that you are constantly in control of the situation. This gets harder and harder as the levels progress, even to a ridiculous point, so practice those ninja skills! It is a truly unique experience. It is a balance of gameplay bliss on a shurikens edge. Most of the time, you will not feel your enemies are too dumb and you can't bypass many parts of this game without mastering stealth. You are literally forced to do it the ideal way! Just to give you an idea how relentless the enemies are, they will follow you onto rooftops and look for you there if they are alerted to your presence enough.
Because the normal attack mode and stealth mode are all in one, it raises the suspense for one thing, but it allows for more freedom. Feel free to do whatever you want to dispatch your enemies as long as you are aware of the necessity of the stealth and efficiency in doing so.
One of the coolest features of the game are Stealth Kills. With Stealth Kills you can attack enemies when they are not looking or caught off guard. If they just barely notice you, you will still have a split second window to get it right, but only that. I've noticed you get extra points for this and other certain stealth kills. The system is probably based on how hard it was to stealth kill an enemy in that particular situation or method. By holding the R1 button and hitting the attack button when close to the enemy, a variety of spectacular looking stealth kills can be made, depending on your position and also randomness. This adds even more to the god-like feeling you get when eluding your enemies, fighting them, disappearing for a bit then jumping out of nowhere and stealth killing them one by one, disappearing in between each. You'll feel like Vamp from MGS2. Although, the name Wrath of Heaven applies to the storyline, I also think it might apply to this feeling you get while playing the game. At any rate, fill up your Stealth Kills gauge (9 kills per mission) and you'll learn a new ninja ability to use for your character. Stealth Kills from above are the most fun. Just jump down from a rooftop or ledge or whatever from above and as your landing on top of the enemy or near him do the R1 and attack button motion.
One main reason it's so easy to be so stealthy in this game is because of the cameras. You can swing them around with both the dual analog sticks (hold down L1 and you won't move...you'll just look around).in 2 different ways to ensure you can peek around corners before emerging from them, over things before climbing up. You can hang on ledges out of site as long as you need,) down over roof edges, etc. You will almost always be able to figure out what's going on all around you in every direction including up and down. Remember to be patient and use this! Sooner than later you will learn to be able to check in all directions really fast.
Rooftops are one of my personal favorite aspects of the environments. Also there is always a place to hide either for time to think or at least someplace just out of site for a second in harder levels. You will be able to run jump or roll right back into a crouching position behind an object or a flattened position against a wall in one fluid motion. Take advantage of these opportunities to progress unseen. Also, it just plain looks and feels cool. The objects and buildings, inside and out, are always placed properly for optimum game play, but remember, it will be harder and harder to hide in later levels and in certain situations. But, as you unlock new moves by filling up your stealth kill gauge, you can do things such as cling to the ceiling, giving you more places to hide and new strategies to stealth kill.
Game User Interface
Ki gauge: In the lower left hand corner of the screen next to your life gauge is one of the most important and remarkably intuitive gauges in any game. Here is your Ki gauge. It is your ninja's special sixth sense ability that helps you keep track of how aware of your presence nearby enemies are. It replaces the map used in game like MGS2 where it shows an enemies position and its field of vision. It is key to moving in stealth successfully.
Life gauge: The life gauge is easily readable
Items: Your items to use in your mission are shown on the bottom right. You can cycle through them with your digital pad arrows. Up and down go directly to your grappling hook and health item, respectively.
Stealth Kill gauge: Fill it up by doing 9 stealth kills per level so you can learn a new ability.
Finally, as far as gameplay goes, I will mention the few small problems I have. They, however, I feel do not detract enough from the overall gameplay score.
1. Sometimes, and not too often, it is hard to switch between crouching to flattening against the wall if you sneak towards it slowly and if you accidentally press away from the wall, instead of along it, you might go back into crouching position by accident and this leaves you more likely to be spotted. Get used to be spotted because of your clumsiness before you get good at your stealth.
2. In fighting situations it is very hard to block at first. You must practice it a lot to get it right as it is hard to anticipate their strike.
3. If you're supposed to be a stealth assassin, why can't you Stealth Kill a boss character?
4. It would be a little bit nicer if I could attack more than one guy at a time more easily a la Mark of Kri, but you know.
5. Although the controls work very tightly and are some of the most precise in this type of 3D game I've ever played, they may take a bit of a learning curve for those not experienced with this type of games. You will have to get used to holding down several buttons at once and taking full advantage of both analog sticks. Do not give up if you are not used to these controls right away, because you will be rewarded with solid gameplay once you have them down.
6. It's a little hard to switch between items on the fly like in combat situations, but you'll get the hand of it. Best to do this while blocking or running or, if you're feeling skillful, take your right thumb and cross it over your left hand while moving and use that to switch items on the d-pad.
2 Player Modes
There are 2 different 2-player modes this time around and they are both very cool. The split screen will take some getting used to, but it won't detract much from the fun. There's a versus mode where you can pick different environments to battle a buddy in or a cooperative mode where you team up in different exclusive 2 player missions. Both play exactly the same as the 1 player game and are an all out ninja fest. All stealth aspects and control aspects, as well as the gaming experience are all the same here as what I have already described. That is good news. It should also cover this mode of play. Now Focus and Fight!